With one Instagram post, new Manchester United signing Zlatan Ibrahimović changed the face of English football.
The move was in the works for some time of course, and was a particularly badly kept secret by all involved, but nonetheless it is now real, an actual occurrence – the Zlatan experience is coming to English shores.
He is the biggest signing a Premier League club has ever made – whether that is in terms of talent is debatable but in terms of profile it is undeniable. He is the ultimate footballing rock star. People hang from his every anti-establishment word and action as if it were gospel – he’s like Mario Balotelli but with the professionalism to back it up.
José Mourinho is rarely sidelined; one can be sure that he will be playing second fiddle at Zlatan’s first press conference.
Ibrahimović has won trophies at every club he has been at and, apart from the Champions League, has so few worlds left to conquer.
And yet the hunger remains in the man to improve. He seems to be on a constant revenge mission – to early coaches who tried to stifle him, to Pep Guardiola who was emotionally indebted to Lionel Messi, to the English media who constantly doubted his ability – sticking two fingers up to whoever doubts him seems to be a large part of Ibra’s raison d’être.
And yet look where it has got him. At the age of 34 he has just completed his most prolific season ever. He is not coming to Manchester United for one last payday, to ride off into the sunset next year with an extra few million in the bank.
He is here to be the main man. He once told Arsène Wenger that he “doesn’t do auditions” – well he doesn’t do cameos either. If Zlatan thought for one second that he was not going to be the star of that team, he would not be signing for them.
On the face of it, signings like this are typical of the Ed Woodward transfer policy. namely that he doesn’t have one. The noises coming from Old Trafford are centred about returning to the Ferguson way and giving youth a chance, only for the club to turn around a sign a player who will be 35 in October in a position currently occupied by one of the team’s brightest prospects in Marcus Rashford.
And to give him over £200,000, that would be seen as outrageous. Typical Woodward, only thinking about the merchandising opportunities that a deal like this can lead to. (That said, had he failed to get this done – the most open of open goals – it would probably have been in his best interests to retire to some Caribbean island where the Man United fans couldn’t find him)
However, this deal has José’s fingerprints all over it. These two have been desperate to work together again following their time spent at Inter – the chance to combine to lead another team to glory will have been too hard to pass up for either man.
Ibra will have been signed for much more than his playing ability (though admittedly the 50 goals last year might have helped sway the decision). He was brought in for the same reasons as Mourinho – to give the club that short, sharp shock that will power them to success. Long term strategy does not come into it right now – trophies at all costs and as soon as possible, that’s the objective.
Manchester United finished fifth in the Premier League last season, and it became noticeable that the winning mentality – a hallmark of the Ferguson era – had deserted this team. Will Ibrahimović or Mourinho tolerate the idea of finishing so low in the league? Of course they wouldn’t, and they’ll make damn sure that nobody else tolerates it either.
Rather than take Rashford’s place, he can take the youngster to new heights by helping the England international to develop his game further. The same goes for all of the other young players at the club – the age of Zlatan might be coming to an end, but his legacy and wisdom can live on long after he is gone.
Sir Alex Ferguson signed a mercurial yet aloof footballer by the name of Eric Cantona in December 1992. By the end of that season, Manchester United had won their first league title in 26 years. Zlatan can be this generation’s Cantona – the distant yet determined force they need to get themselves back to the top of the English football ladder.
Under the ego lies the talent. His signing is a risk – insofar as every transfer is – but the positive influence that he could exert over this team may be profound.
Whether he succeeds in his objectives this season or not remains to be seen – but there is no question that the Premier League will be all the more enthralling with his presence.